Kunstkammer - Cabinet of Curiosities

One of the most interesting areas of antique collecting are those objects that might find their way into a 16th-century Kunstkammer or a cabinet of curiosities.  Aligned with the age of enlightenment, encyclopedic collections of objects of various origins developed across Europe. The boundaries of which were only limited by the owners’ desire to acquire objects and gather knowledge. Otherwise, there are sculptures, paintings, historical and religious relics, antiquities, objects belonging to ethnography, geology, natural history, curiosities from distant exotic lands, marine discoveries and more!

We have selected some objects from our current stock that we think might be suitable for a Kunstkammer, Studiolo, Cabinet of curiosities, Wunderkammer or Kunstkamera. 

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In 1587 Gabriel Kaltermarckt advised Christian I Elector of Saxony 1586-1591 that for a legitimate Kunstkammer, there need to be three different types of objects:

  1. Firstly, there has to be a wealth of sculptures
  2. Secondly, furthermore, a worthy collection of suitable paintings by Masters
    Thirdly, There must be curious and unusual natural and geological items from abroad or home; claws, skeletons, feathers etc
  3. In addition to these, finally, one should include coins and medals of Roman emperors, kings, learned and military men.

He stressed that princes should make an effort to buy original items but be wary of forgeries – “Much deceitful dealing occurs”

Furthermore, the development of the Kunstkammer collection was not one that should just be acquired and housed. The collection needs to develop like a tree, over many years. As new pieces enter the collection, the strength and learned direction may change and expand. As it does, the arrangement or taxonomy of the collection may have also changed to reflect the new interests and developments.

It goes without saying, that these collections were spaces where the owner could retire for private contemplation and admiration. Every object told a unique story but together these objects had a greater presence and more unifying worldly experience. These private rooms were indeed the first foundations of the museums that we know today.

There is one marvelous example of a mostly artistic Kunstkammer — The Studiolo of Francesco I housed in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Francesco I was the first Medici Grand-Duke of Tuscany, employing over 30 artists to complete the paintings, with sculpture by Giambolgna. Painted doors opening to cupboards of extraordinary objects. Another important collection belongs to the Frederick III of Denmark. He merged his collection with the one that belonged to the late monarch Ole Worm, whose cabinet was one of the most famous ones in the 17th century. However, the Kunstkammer that had no valid rivals in the northern part of the Alps was the one belonging to Rudolph II -Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Croatia, King of Bohemia and Archduke of Austria.

Finally, a great example of a broad intellectual collection is the one in Saint Petersburg, called “Kunstkamera”. Peter the Great was the founder of this cabinet, which is actually the first museum in Russia.